The following article is an excerpt from "A Book of Bible Study"
by Joseph F. Harwood.
The book may be downloaded in PDF format by clicking on the “Download” button below.
The subject of predestination is an often times divisive issue among genuine believers endeavoring to the best of their ability understand the truths of God’s word. This teaching is also one that can be hard to grasp because of the presence of some Scriptures which would at first glance seem to indicate that man does have a say in the matter of his own salvation.
Therefore, in the interest of a thorough examination of the Scriptures on this subject, we will consider several Bible verses that have been used by some to insist that man’s own decision either to accept Christ or reject Him is the ultimate factor in determining his salvation. In studying these verses, we will consider them within the context of the passages in which they are found, and we will also consider them within the context of the Scriptures as a whole, in order to make sure that the apparent meaning of these verses is not contradicted by other Scriptures. This is to say that we will let Scripture interpret Scripture.
As believers with a heart to understand and obey God’s word, let us once again recall how the Bereans in Paul’s day “…received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11). In the same way, let us all prayerfully search the Scriptures ourselves in an effort to understand what is taught in God’s word. And let us receive and embrace that truth as it is written in the Bible, even if it should challenge our own ideas about the way we think God should be, or if it should challenge things that we have heard declared with great confidence many times before.
The Difficulty of Paul’s Teaching in Romans 9
Paul’s teaching in Romans 9 gets right to the heart of the disagreement between those who embrace the free will doctrine of salvation, and those who say the Bible teaches that it is ultimately God’s election and calling of an individual that determines whether or not they will be saved. Romans 9:6-24 is probably the most difficult passage to explain for those who adhere to the belief that a man’s salvation rests ultimately with his own decision to either accept or reject Christ.
Despite the clarity of Paul’s language in this passage, and the scriptural examples that he used to communicate his point, some will still object to the teaching found here, and in numerous other passages of Scripture. As we discussed previously, within the context of this passage itself, Paul anticipated and fully expected that many would object to what he was teaching as being unjust and unreasonable.
The objection was then, and is still today, to Paul’s teaching of God’s sovereign choice of a particular people who receive His mercy and are called to faith in Christ, while others do not receive God’s mercy, but are actually hardened by God Himself (Romans 9:18). In an effort to make objections to this teaching valid, an attempt must be made to interpret certain Scripture passages, especially Romans 9:6-24, in such a way as to support the free will doctrine of salvation.
Did God Really Hate Esau?
Within this controversial passage of Romans 9, we read these words:
For though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13)
a.Romans 9:12 Gen. 25:23
b.Romans 9:13 Mal. 1:2,3
One objection that has been put forward by those who say that man’s own decision either to accept Christ or reject Him is ultimately the determining factor in his own salvation, is an assertion that Romans 9:13 actually says something different than what the text itself would indicate. In this verse, Paul quoted from Malachi 1:2-3 to clarify the point that he intended to communicate. Romans 9:13 reads: “Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”
Those who object to the doctrine of predestination as God’s choice alone will assert that God really did not “hate” Esau, but that He only loved Esau “less” than He loved Jacob. The Greek word from the original text, which is translated as “hated” in Romans 9:13, could be interpreted as “hated” in the sense that we all understand hatred, which is to detest someone, or it could be interpreted as “loved less”.
Those who adhere to the free will doctrine of salvation must insist that the Greek word which is translated as “hated” in this passage, should actually have been translated as “loved less”. Without taking this position, their doctrine would clearly be shown to be contradicted by Paul’s teaching in Romans 9:6-24. The question that we must ask ourselves is this: What is the correct interpretation of the Greek word that is translated as “hated” in the text of Romans 9:13?
As with any interpretation of Scripture, we must consider the context of the passage from which the Scripture is taken. With an examination of the context of this passage in Romans 9:6-24, we see that Paul referred to vessels of God’s wrath, who are prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22). We also see reference to vessels of God’s mercy, “which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.” (Romans 9:23-24). We also see in Romans 9:18 that God has mercy upon those whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens those whom He wants to harden.
Words like the ones Paul used in verse 22 of this passage, “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”, do indeed imply hatred as we all understand hatred, which is to detest someone, and they do imply rejection by God. These words do not imply “loving less” as some would say.
Therefore, the context of this passage within which Romans 9:13 is found does not support the assertion that God loved Esau “less” than Jacob. Rather, it supports exactly what the text reads literally, which is that God did in fact hate or detest Esau. And that is why Paul used this Scripture from Malachi to support his teaching here. He used God’s love of Jacob and His hatred of Esau as demonstrated in Malachi 1:2-5, in order to illustrate God’s sovereign choice or election of a people for Himself who are recipients of His mercy, while the rest receive no such mercy.
To carry our examination of the context of this passage further, we can look at the context of the passage in Malachi from which Paul takes this verse, in an effort to see if the context there supports the assertion that God really did not hate Esau, but only loved him less than Jacob. Romans 9:13 contains a quotation taken from a passage in Malachi 1 which reads:
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau, and I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Though Edom says, “We have been beaten down, but we will return and build up the ruins”; thus says the Lord of hosts, “They may build, but I will tear down; and men will call them the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.” Your eyes will see this and you will say, “The Lord be magnified beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:2-5)
In verse 3 of this passage, God spoke of His hatred for Esau (the descendants of Esau are the people of Edom) by saying that “I have made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.” Further, God said in verse 4 that they would be called: “the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever.”
These words and their meaning are clear and can be interpreted in no other way. The words, “the wicked territory, and the people toward whom the Lord is indignant forever” make it clear that God did indeed hate or detest Esau. So from the context of Romans 9:6-24, and also from the context of Malachi 1:2-5, we see that God did not love Esau less than He loved Jacob, but He did indeed hate Esau in the sense that all of us understand the word hatred.
The teaching that Paul intended to communicate by way of scriptural reference to Jacob and Esau, is that there are individuals whom God has decided to love, before they are even born, and before they have done anything at all either good or bad, as was the case with Jacob. These individuals receive His mercy. Likewise, there are also individuals whom God has decided not to love, but to hate, before they are even born, as was the case with Esau. These individuals do not receive His mercy.
The assertion that many have made in an attempt to support the free will doctrine of salvation, which is that God did not really hate Esau, but only loved him less than Jacob, is actually contradicted by the context of both Romans 9 and Malachi 1. Therefore, this assertion is invalid and fails to challenge the apparent meaning of Paul’s teaching in Romans 9:6-24. And so we see that the meaning intended by Paul is exactly what is indicated in the language of the text.
What Paul intended to communicate is that God chooses some people to receive His mercy, while others do not receive His mercy; rather they are left in their sins. Those whom God chooses to receive His mercy Paul described as “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not only from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Romans 9:23b-24). Those who do not receive God’s mercy but are left in their sins, Paul described as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22b).
Further, Paul emphasized in this passage of Romans 9 that man’s own will or desire or decision is not the determining factor in his salvation, but his salvation depends solely upon whether he is one to whom God has decided to show mercy. This teaching is given to us clearly in Romans 9:16 where Paul said: “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (emphasis added).
Paul also said in Romans 9:18: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” And once again, the very fact that Paul anticipated objections and protests to what he was teaching (Romans 9:14, 19) tells us that he was indeed teaching what many would consider to be hard, unfair and unjust.
Doesn’t the Bible Say that God Wants All Men to be Saved?
Another objection that is often raised by those who say that man’s own decision either to accept Christ or reject Him is the determining factor in his salvation is the use of the phrase “all men” which occurs in several Bible passages. One such example is found in John 12 where Jesus said: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). Some interpret the “all men” in this verse as meaning that God has offered salvation to each and every individual who has ever been born, and all they have to do to take advantage of this offer is to make the decision to accept Christ.
As always when we are interpreting Scripture, we must consider the context of the passage within which the particular verse or verses is found, and we must also consider if our interpretation is contradicted by any other passage of Scripture. John 12:32 referenced above is found within a passage that begins in John 12:20. So we must consider the context of the entire passage in our interpretation of what Jesus was saying in John 12:32. In John 12:20-22, we find that there were Greeks present who were interested in what Jesus had to say, and they came to Philip asking to see Jesus. Philip told Andrew of their request, and the two of them told Jesus.
Jesus, being the Son of God, already knew that there were Greeks (who are Gentiles) present who were interested in what He would say. However, in order to emphasize this to those who would later read his account of the Gospel, John stated very clearly that Andrew and Philip told Jesus that some Greeks were there and wanted to see Him. After this, Jesus then began speaking to all of those present with His teaching about the fruitful grain of wheat starting in John 12:23. Later in the passage, He said that when He was “lifted up from the earth” (which everyone in those days understood to be a reference to crucifixion), He would draw “all men” to Himself.
Jesus, knowing that there were Greek Gentiles present who wanted to see Him, was communicating to the crowd that He would draw not only those from among the Jews to Himself, but also Gentiles as well. A Gentile is anyone who is not of the Jewish race. So when we consider those who are of the Jewish race, along with those who are not of the Jewish race (Gentiles), then we are considering all races of men, which is to say that we are considering “all men” categorically. This is not to say that we are considering all men individually, or each and every individual who has ever been born.
It was widely understood by both Jews and Gentiles in Jesus’ day that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was the God of the Jews, and that all of His promises applied only to the Jews, who were God’s chosen people. However, contrary to this widely held view at the time, Jesus was communicating to all who were in the crowd, both Jews and Gentiles, that the Gentiles were also included in God’s plan of redemption and salvation. This was also prophesied by Isaiah (Isaiah 49:6 and 65:1), and affirmed again in the Book of Revelation where we read:
“…Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
When Jesus said in John 12:32 that when He was “lifted up from the earth” He would draw “all men” to Himself, He was saying that He would draw not only men from among the Jewish race, but also men from among the Gentile races as well. To interpret the phrase “all men” in this passage as meaning each and every individual who ever lived would be an interpretation that is contradicted in passages such as Romans 9:6-24, which we have considered in depth previously. And again, since the context of the passage mentions that Jesus was aware there were Greek Gentiles present who wanted to see Him, we have more confirmation that the “all men” Jesus referred to here, indeed refers to “all races of men”, which is to say both the Jewish race and the non-Jewish (or Gentile) races, or those “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”.
Another reference to the phrase “all men”, which some claim to be evidence that God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is available to each and every individual who has ever lived, is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. The passage reads:
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-7).
Here again we must consider the context of the passage, and also who is being addressed in the passage, for a proper interpretation and understanding of whom Paul referred to when he spoke of “all men”. Paul was writing to Timothy, whom he had charged with caring for the church at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3). Ephesus was located in what today is the nation of Turkey. All native Ephesians would therefore be Gentiles. Timothy himself was the son of a Greek Gentile father and a Jewish Christian mother (Acts 16:1).
The purpose of Paul’s letter to Timothy was to instruct Timothy on how to care for the church at Ephesus. One of the fundamental truths that Paul wanted to communicate to the Gentile churches was that they too were included in God’s plan of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and not only the Jews. This is emphasized in verse 7 of this passage of 1 Timothy 2, where Paul described himself as “a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth”. The message that the Gentiles races were also included in God’s plan of salvation is the same truth that Jesus made clear as He spoke to the crowd as recorded in John 12:20-33, when it was known that Gentiles were present who were interested in His message.
Paul was saying in this passage of 1 Timothy 2:3-7 the same thing that Jesus said in John 12:32, which is that God’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ includes not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles. A Gentile is anyone who is not directly descended from the twelve tribes of Israel. Once again, when we include Jews, and all of those who are not Jews, then we have “all men” categorically, or all races of men, or those “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation”, as John wrote in Revelation 5:9.
To interpret the phrase “all men” found in either 1 Timothy 2:4-5 or John 12:32 as meaning each and every person who has ever lived would be to insist on an interpretation that is not born out in the context of the passages in which these verses are found. Such an interpretation would also be contradicted by other passages of Scripture that we have considered previously, which teach that God chooses some to receive His mercy and be saved, while others are hardened, being left in their sins, with no desire or ability to come to Christ at all.
In Acts 2, the Apostle Peter also taught that the promise of salvation through faith in Christ is extended to all races of men, or “all men” categorically. Speaking to a crowd in Jerusalem, Peter called upon them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
Peter’s exhortation to the crowd again illustrates the outward call of the proclamation of the Gospel message spoken in the hearing of men, calling upon them to put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and reconciliation to God. Though many hear this outward call, only few are chosen by God (Matthew 22:14), and these few are called to faith in Christ with the inward, effectual calling of God that Jesus spoke about in John 6:44 and John 6:63-65.
Immediately after Peter called upon those in this crowd in Jerusalem to put their faith in Christ, he said to them: “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” (Acts 2:39). When Peter said that the promise is for “you and your children”, he was speaking to the Jews. When he then said that the promise is also for “all who are far off”, he was speaking of Gentiles. So Peter was teaching that the promise is for Jews and also for those who are not Jews. And so we see that the promise is for not only for the Jewish race, but for all races of men.
Peter then qualified his statement by saying that the promise is for “as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself”, not only from among the Jews but also from among the Gentiles as well, just as Paul also taught in Romans 9:22-24. Therefore, we see that the promise of salvation through faith in Christ is for all races of men, for as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself from among them all. The determining factor mentioned here by Peter is God’s calling, which is consistent with many other passages of Scripture that we have already considered.
From an examination of the context of the broader passages within which John 12:32 and 1 Timothy 2:4-5 are found, we see that the reference to “all men” in both of these passages refers to “all races of men”, or all men categorically, and not to all men individually, as in the sense of each and every person who has ever been born. These verses cannot be interpreted as meaning that an “offer” of salvation is “available” to each and every person who has ever been born. Rather these passages mean that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ includes all races of men, as many individuals as the Lord our God will call from among them all, as Peter also taught in Acts 2:39.
Doesn’t the Bible Say that God Does Not Want Anyone to Perish?
Another Scripture verse used by some to say that God desires everyone would be saved is 2 Peter 3:9. Peter began in 2 Peter 3:3 by warning us about scoffers who will question why Jesus has delayed His second coming, implying that He will never return at all. And then in verse 8, Peter said we should not forget that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. Immediately following, we read: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
Some interpret this verse as saying that God is not willing that anyone ever born should perish, but that all of them should come to repentance. Such an interpretation would contradict many Scriptures that we have already examined, which teach that God chooses some, His elect, to come to faith in Christ, while others He hardens. Contradiction is confusing, but when we interpret this verse in the light of the context of 2 Peter, and in the light of the rest of the Bible as a whole, the meaning becomes clear, and the apparent contradiction is resolved.
When Peter said that God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” we must ask ourselves to whom Peter referred. Is he referring to each and every person who has ever lived, or does the “you” in this verse refer to a particular group of people? The letter of 2 Peter is addressed to believers (2 Peter 1:1). Therefore the “you” in 2 Peter 3:9 refers collectively to all believers.
And further, when we consider the context of 2 Peter 3:3-15, within which 2 Peter 3:9 is found, we see that Peter referred to the span of time between when Jesus ascended into Heaven, and His second coming (2 Peter 3:3-4, 10). So when he wrote in verse 9 that the Lord is patient toward “you”, and “not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance”, Peter was teaching that God is patient with His elect, and not willing that anyone among them should perish, but that all of them will come to repentance (see also verse 15). This was the reason that he gave to believers as to why Christ’s second coming had not yet occurred. When all of God’s elect are in His time brought to faith, then Christ’s second coming will occur.
Jesus taught in John 6:37-39 that there are a certain number of people whom the Father has given to Him. These are God’s elect, and He is not willing that any of these will be lost. Paul taught that there are a certain number of Jews who will be numbered with spiritual Israel, or those who will be brought to faith in Christ (Romans 9:6-8, 11:1-5). These have or will receive God’s mercy, in that they are chosen by grace (Romans 11:5), whereas the others are hardened and unable to come to Christ, being blinded by God Himself (Romans 11:7-8). Paul also spoke of a certain number of Gentiles who will be brought to faith in Christ (Romans 11:25-26).
If Jesus had hastened His second coming and returned the day after He ascended into Heaven, the Apostle Paul would not yet have been brought to faith, as he was sometime later on the Damascus road, in God’s time. Likewise, many of us who have been brought to faith in Christ over the succeeding centuries would never have been born into the world and brought to faith, also in God’s time. The message of 2 Peter 3:3-15 is that Christ’s second coming will occur as all things do, in God’s time and according to His plan and purpose for His creation.
Some of God’s elect are still hostile to the Gospel message, having not yet been brought to faith, just as Saul himself was also hostile to the Gospel message until God intervened in his life to bring him to faith on the Damascus road. Also, some of God’s elect have not yet even been born into the world. In God’s time these will be born into the world, and again in God’s time, they will be brought to faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
The message of 2 Peter 3:9 is that God is not willing that any of His elect will perish, and some of His elect have not yet been brought to faith. When all of those whom the Father has given to Jesus finally do come to Him (John 6:37), He will return the second time. And at that time: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10).
Therefore, once again we see that a Scripture verse which some would say teaches that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is “available” to each and every individual who has ever been born, does not teach that at all. Rather, when we interpret 2 Peter 3:9 in the context in which it appears in the Bible, and in the light of all the rest of the Scriptures as a whole, we see a different meaning than what the verse would suggest if it were isolated by itself. 2 Peter 3:9 teaches us that God is not willing that any of His elect will be lost, but that all of them will come to repentance (Ephesians 1:4-5, 1 Peter 1:1-2).
What about John 3:16?
In the Gospel of John we read: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Many of us will read John 3:16 and in our own minds we will add the thought that everyone is free and able to believe the Gospel message as they choose. However, the text of John 3:16 says nothing about a man’s freedom or his ability to believe the message.
It is fine to add thoughts and conditions to a passage of Scripture, as long as those thoughts and conditions are stated elsewhere in the Bible. However, the thought or the idea that everyone who hears the Gospel message is free and able to believe the message is stated nowhere in the Bible. What is clearly stated in the Bible is that unregenerate men are indeed not free or even able to believe the message at all, unless and until God intervenes in their lives to call them to faith in Christ.
By way of a brief review, we will consider just a few Scriptures that challenge the interpretation of John 3:16 as teaching that everyone is free and able to come to Christ if they should choose to do so. These Scriptures are John 6:44, 6:65, and Romans 8:7.
In John 6:44 and 6:65 Jesus taught about the inability of man to believe in Him apart from God’s intervention in his life. In John 6:44 He taught that no one can come to Him unless they are drawn by the Father. And in John 6:65 He taught that no one can come to Him unless it has been granted to them by the Father to do so. Jesus also taught in John 6:44 that whoever is drawn to Him by the Father will be raised up at the last day.
In Romans 8:7 Paul taught that “the mind set on the flesh”, or the mind of unregenerate man, is hostile toward God; it will not submit to God’s law, nor is it even able to do so. Therefore, if unregenerate man who cannot submit to God’s law is to be saved, then God Himself must intervene in his life to forcefully overcome his hostile will and bring him to faith. We can see this reality demonstrated in the life of Paul himself as we read in the Scriptures of his conversion on the Damascus road, even while he was still intent on persecuting the church.
Believing in Christ is not an act of our own will or volition that we choose to do when we are still dead in our sins, whereby we take advantage of a perceived “offer of salvation that is available to every individual”, as some would say. Rather our believing in Christ is evidence that we have already been called by God to faith in His Beloved Son.
The Scriptures teach us that when anyone believes in Christ, it is not because they chose to believe; it is because God has chosen to intervene in their lives to cause them to believe. The Scriptures teach that man cannot, and therefore he does not, choose to believe the Gospel message. Rather God chooses certain men, His elect, and these He brings to faith in Christ.
The Bible teaches us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). Many receive the proclamation of the Gospel message in their hearing, but again as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, though many are called outwardly when they hear the message, only few are actually chosen to come to faith (Matthew 22:14).
And once again as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower: in the same way that the seed sown by the farmer yielded a crop only where it fell upon the “good soil”, so also the seed of the Gospel message produces a harvest only where it is received in the hearing of God’s elect. His elect not only hear the word, but they also understand it, and they bear fruit: some thirty, some sixty, and some a hundred times what was sown (Matthew 13:1-23). By this bearing of fruit, we demonstrate that we are indeed Jesus’ disciples (John 15:8).
Jesus also said: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing…” (John 6:63). If man were able to come to Christ while he was still unregenerate and dead in his sins, or still in the flesh, then a decision made while in the flesh could potentially profit him everything. But Jesus said that the flesh profits nothing; rather it is the Spirit who gives life. Further, the Apostles John and Paul both taught clearly that a man’s salvation does not come about by way of his own will or decision (John 1:13, Romans 9:16).
In addition to being incapable of coming to Christ without being drawn by the God the Father, the unregenerate man has no desire to come to Christ, because as Paul taught, all unregenerate men are hostile toward God (Romans 8:7). Paul also wrote: “There is no one who seeks for God… not even one” (Romans 3:10-11). Since no man seeks God, God must seek men and Himself bring them to faith if any are to be saved.
When anyone has a genuine desire to come to Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and reconciliation to God the Father, they can be assured that this desire is evidence of a work of regeneration that God has already done in their life. They are one of God’s elect, and they have already been called to faith in Christ. As a result of this work that God has wrought within them, they now believe in Christ. Unless and until an individual is called by God to faith in Christ, they will not come to Christ; they will refuse to believe, because they are in fact not even able to believe (again, Romans 8:7).
God’s calling of an individual is effectual, meaning that all of those who receive God’s calling to faith in Christ do indeed come to Christ, and none refuse. And once again, this effectual calling of God is demonstrated clearly and powerfully in the life of Saul, as recorded three times in the Bible (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:1-16, and Acts 26:9-18).
In reading these passages, we find that Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul, remained hostile toward the Gospel message right up until the moment in time when God intervened in his life to forcefully overcome his own stubborn will and bring him to faith in Christ. Saul was brought to faith contrary to his own will and apart from his own decision (Acts 9:1-4, Acts 22:4-7 and Acts 26:9-15). In the same way, we will all remain hostile toward God unless and until He forcefully intervenes in our lives to bring us to faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
Our believing in Christ is evidence that we have already been called to faith. It is evidence that we have already received Christ and have therefore crossed over from death to eternal life (John 5:24). God chose to bring us to faith, apart from our own will and apart from any decision of our own. He has called us to faith in His Son, and as a result of His calling we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Our believing is not a choice or decision that we made whereby we took advantage of an “offer” of salvation, as some would say. If a man believes in Christ, it is not because he thoughtfully considered the Gospel message and decided that he would believe, when he just as easily could have decided that he would continue not to believe. The Bible teaches that God has already made that decision for him, and God Himself brings each of His elect to faith in His time.
This is the lesson given to us from Saul’s conversion, and this is the teaching given to us through many other passages of Scripture as well. When a man is called to faith in Christ, he comes to Christ, and he will be raised up at the last day (John 6:37, 6:44). Man does not choose to believe in Christ, rather God chooses certain men; God decides who will be brought to faith in Christ, and who will be left in their sins (John 15:16, Romans 9:6-24).
Those who desire to come to Christ can also be sure that God does not give that desire to everyone, but only to His elect, or His chosen people whom Jesus referred to as His “sheep” in John 10:1-30. These and only these will hear His voice; others will not be able to hear (John 6:63-65, 8:43, 8:47, 10:24-26). These and only these are the ones foreknown by God from before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5) and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29). These and only these are then called by God to salvation and redemption through Christ, and we know that those whom God calls He also justifies, and those He justifies He also glorifies (Romans 8:30).
Our salvation as God’s elect who have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ is the work of God from beginning to end. He calls us to faith in His Son, and He brings our faith to its completion, as all of us who are called are then justified and finally glorified together with Christ for eternity. Let us therefore rejoice and give thanks to God our Father, together with all of His saints, for His grace and mercy which He showed to us when He chose to call us to faith in His Son.